This 2015 vintage Merlot from the Mariko winery in the Nagano prefecture is a full-bodied red that brings pipe tobacco, dark chocolate, black fruits and a range of spices. It is delicious on its own or served alongside spicy meat dishes and steak. A truly wonderful wine.
The birthplace of Japanese winemaking, Yamanashi prefecture is the largest and most famous of Japan’s winemaking regions. Surrounded by tall mountains, overlooked by Mt. Fuji and bathed in long hours of sunlight, it is no wonder that Yamanashi has established itself as the leading region for exceptional quality wine. Only two hours’ drive west of Tokyo, this landlocked prefecture is the epicentre of wine tourism in Japan and boasts the highest concentration of wineries of any region. It has a rich clay soil that, whilst unideal for cultivating rice, is perfect for viticulture. The low rainfall, sunlight and sheltered topography of the area help produce some of the finest quality grapes – and most sought-after wines - in Japan.
Yamanashi’s quest for quality and authenticity can be typified through its successes in becoming Japan’s first Geographical Indication (GI) for wine and championing legislation introduced in 2018 to only allow wine made with 100% Japanese grapes to be labelled “Japanese Wine”. It is impossible to talk about Yamanashi without mentioning Koshu Grapes, Japan’s native grape variety. Yamanashi has been growing Koshu grapes for centuries; the name “Koshu” was the ancient name for Yamanashi. Yamanashi has also been at the forefront of hybridising new grape varieties (such as the outstandingly soft and luscious Muscat Bailey A) that make the most out of the unique climate and terroir.
A wine from Yamanashi is the traditional starting point for those exploring Japanese wine for the first time and it is a region that enthusiasts find themselves returning to time and time again.
One of the most popular grapes in the world, Merlot has also proved extremely popular with Japanese winemakers. Merlot famously adapts to many climates and takes on the character of the location it is grown in. This leads, even within Japan, to a very wide variety of styles and flavours of Merlot wine, from soft and smooth fruity expressions to bold, rich and herbaceous. This chameleon effect allows each winemaker to create their own signature take on Merlot and this diversity of character truly warrants exploration of Merlots from a selection of different wineries and regions in Japan.